Botswana's entire parliament quarantined after coronavirus scare

FILE PHOTO: Botswana's President and leader of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Mokgweetsi Masisi casts his vote at his home village of Moshupa, in the Southern District of Botswana, October 23, 2019. REUTERS/Siyabonga Sishi/File Photo

GABORONE (Reuters) - All Botswana’s parliamentarians including President Mokgweetsi Masisi will be quarantined for 14 days and tested for the new coronavirus, after a health worker screening lawmakers for the virus herself tested positive.

The health worker had checked the temperatures of some of the lawmakers on Wednesday during a special sitting of parliament, which was called to debate a proposal by Masisi to extend a state of emergency to six months.

Health Minister Lemogang Kwape told parliamentarians on Thursday that the health worker had tested positive for COVID-19 overnight, one of seven new confirmed cases that brought the total in the southern African country to 13.

“The health worker had not shown any symptoms but had just taken a routine test. Unfortunately, the result came late on Wednesday after she was on duty at yesterday’s parliament session,” Kwape told the assembly, before lawmakers endorsed Masisi’s proposal to extend the state of emergency.

Director of Public Health Malaki Tshipayagae instructed all the lawmakers to quarantine themselves.

Masisi is himself a member of parliament and already had to self-isolate in March after a visit to Namibia.

The lawmakers have the option to self-isolate at home or be taken to facilities designated by the government.

Separately, regulations published in the government gazette on Thursday banned businesses from laying off staff during the state of emergency.

Trade unions estimate that more than 20,000 workers have been laid off or placed on unpaid leave over the global coronavirus pandemic.

Reporting by Brian Benza; Editing by Alexander Winning and Alexandra Hudson